The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Daniel Donner, and Cara Zelaya, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
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● Harris County, TX Judge: Lina Hidalgo immediately became one of the most prominent Democrats in Texas following her 2018 upset win to lead America's third-largest county, but now a new poll shows the incumbent faces a tough race for a second term.
The survey, conducted by YouGov for the University of Houston, finds Hidalgo edging out Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer just 46-44 among registered voters, though the same sample sees Democrat Beto O'Rourke prevailing by a larger 48-40 margin in his race to unseat Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. Joe Biden carried Harris County, which is home to most of the city of Houston and many of its suburbs, 56-43, the best performance for a Democratic presidential nominee since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
Four years ago, Hidalgo made history at the age of 27 when she unseated Republican County Judge Ed Emmett in a 50-48 squeaker. (In Texas, county judges are executive rather than judicial posts). Hidalgo, who was born in Colombia and came to Texas as a teenager, became both the first woman and Latina to hold this office, as well as the first Democrat to do so since 1974—a time when the Texas Democratic Party looked very different than it does today.
However, Hidalgo has had an especially difficult few months. District Attorney Kim Ogg, a fellow Democrat whom Hidalgo has clashed with repeatedly, indicted three of the judge's top aides in April for allegedly directing an $11 million contract for a COVID vaccine outreach project to a preferred political consultant. Hidalgo's legal team in turn has claimed that Ogg's actions are politically and personally motivated, arguing, "Despite claiming to be a Democrat, Ogg has aligned herself with her former Republican colleagues in retaliation against Judge Hidalgo."
The judge herself said in May that she'd "not seen anything to suggest that my team did anything but protect the people of Harris County." Hidalgo has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but she also predicted on Twitter that month that Ogg would come after her. "I expect this political exercise to continue through Election Day," Hidalgo wrote, continuing, "She'll have me indicted. Or name a 'special prosecutor'—an illusion of independence since those are still beholden to the DA."
Republicans are hoping that Hidalgo's woes and the national political climate will give a lift to Mealer, a first-time candidate who has largely focused her campaign on concerns about crime and corruption. Mealer may also benefit from the end of straight-ticket voting in Texas, which legislative Republicans voted to do away with in 2017 starting with the 2020 cycle. Emmet, who was counting on crossover support, himself blamed the delay for his surprise defeat, tweeting one day after the 2018 election, "Keeping the straight ticket option for 1 more election cycle turned out to be a disaster for all Republicans. With the long ballot, more than 75% of voters chose to vote straight ticket, and the Democrats outvoted Republicans by more than 100K."
Hidalgo's camp, meanwhile, is pointing to her record during four sometimes turbulent years in office to make her case for re-election. "Lina Hidalgo has successfully led Harris County through chemical fires, floods, the winter freeze and a global pandemic," her campaign has said, "all while overhauling how the county tackles flooding and making record-breaking investments in fighting crime and tackling homelessness."
● OH-Sen: The Democratic group Future Forward PAC has doubled its buy against Republican J.D. Vance by throwing down an additional $710,000 on an ad campaign attacking his opposition to abortion rights. Other major outside groups have largely bypassed the general election in this conservative-leaning state so far.
The offensive began just before Vance reported raising just $1 million from April to June and ending the second quarter with $630,000 on-hand; Democratic rival Tim Ryan, by contrast, hauled in $9.1 million during this time and had $3.6 million to spend. (Two of Vance's joint-fundraising committees took in a total of $2.3 million and had a similar amount on-hand, but that still put them well behind Ryan.) Vance, though, may be counting on billionaire Peter Thiel, whose super PAC spent $15 million to get him the GOP nod in May, to rescue him if he runs into any trouble.
● MD-Gov: Author Wes Moore has earned the backing of Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, who is a longtime elected official in Baltimore County, ahead of Tuesday's Democratic primary. Ruppersberger joins his homestate colleagues, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Kweisi Mfume, in Moore's corner.
● MI-Gov: Wealthy businessman Kevin Rinke is airing what appears to be the first negative ad of the Aug. 2 Republican primary, a spot that accuses conservative radio host Tudor Dixon of being "endorsed by the RINO establishment's leading never Trumpers" and of having "taken millions from the same billionaires who tried to illegally remove Trump from office." The spot features images of Mitt Romney, Adam Kinzinger, Liz Cheney, and Betsy DeVos to make its case that Dixon is part of the anti-Trump wing of the party, though the former education secretary is the only one who has anything to do with her campaign.
DeVos was far from an outcast in Trumpworld until she resigned from his cabinet one day after the Jan. 6 attack. Her husband, billionaire Dick DeVos, endorsed Dixon in May, though the Detroit News notes that there's no indication yet that the family has contributed "millions" to support the candidate.
● NY-03: DNC member Robert Zimmerman has secured an endorsement from Rep. Grace Meng, who represents the neighboring 6th District, ahead of the Aug. 23 primary. Meng is arguably the most prominent Asian American elected official in the state, and her support could be an asset to Zimmerman in a constituency where about a quarter of the residents are also Asian American.
● NY-17: Nita Lowey, who represented much of the Lower Hudson Valley from 1989 until her 2021 retirement, has endorsed her former colleague, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, in next month's Democratic primary. Almost three-quarters of the new 17th's denizens live within the boundaries of the seat Lowey held until last year, while Maloney currently represents most of the balance.
● WA-04: GOP Rep. Dan Newhouse is going negative ahead of the Aug. 2 top-two primary with a commercial that excoriates his Trump-endorsed intra-party opponent, 2020 gubernatorial nominee Loren Culp, as a "failed politician who's "only in politics to make money." The narrator continues, "Culp paid himself $33,000 from campaign funds, and personally expensed his campaign enough mileage to drive all the way around the Earth and then some."
Secretaries of State
● AZ-SoS: On Wednesday, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey endorsed advertising executive Beau Lane, who is the only candidate in the four-way primary who acknowledges Joe Biden's 2020 win. A recent survey from the GOP firm OH Predictive Insights found a wide-open Aug. 2 race with 72% undecided: State Rep. Mark Finchem, who has Trump's endorsement, led state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita 14-6, with Lane and state Rep. Shawnna Bolick taking 5% and 3%, respectively.
● Baltimore County, MD State's Attorney: Four-term incumbent Scott Shellenberger is on the receiving end of a massive amount of spending ahead of Tuesday's Democratic primary battle against Robbie Leonard, an attorney who is both positioning himself as a criminal justice reformer while also arguing that Shellenberger has done a poor job dealing with Baltimore County's murder rate. (Baltimore County is a separate jurisdiction from the city of Baltimore, where State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby faces a competitive renomination fight of her own.)
The Baltimore Sun reports that Maryland Justice & Public Safety PAC, which is affiliated with a national organization run by philanthropist George Soros, spent $740,000 through Wednesday against Shellenberger. By contrast, the state's attorney's campaign only outspent Leonard $68,000 to $46,000 from mid-January through July 3.
Leonard has said of Shellenberger, "I always wondered, like, how is this state's attorney a Democrat? … He's always opposing legislation being put in by Democrats." To make his case, Leonard has faulted the incumbent for opposing police reform legislation while only supporting a weak revised version. The challenger has also focused on an ongoing federal lawsuit alleging that Shellenberger and his office violated a woman's rights by trying to stop her from filing rape charges after the state's attorney decided not to prosecute her case.
Shellenberger, meanwhile, is arguing that Leonard does not have the experience to serve as the county's top prosecutor. The incumbent has also tried to make Leonard's outside support an issue, saying of Soros, "It seems to me that a billionaire who has no connection to Baltimore County should not be dictating who the state's attorney is in Baltimore County … This person has a reputation for supporting progressive prosecutors around the country, and I don't think that's what we need or want here in Baltimore County." The winner will be favored in the November general election in a county that supported Biden 62-35.